Monday, February 18, 2013

How NOT to Get Mugged on the Paris Metro (By an 8-Year-Old)


In any encounter with a die-hard traveler, amidst a plethora of hearty descriptions of nature hikes, temples, and monuments, you will inevitably hear a tale of theft or disaster. It is a rare occasion indeed when a traveler worth their salt lacks a story about themselves or a member of their group being mugged or burglarized. It can happen anywhere, in any country, at any time. And me telling you to 'be aware' of it doesn't mean it will happen any less either.

Saint Michel district Paris, Paris city walk
Who hasn't experienced some sort of theft while on the road?

My story goes back to my Europe 2010 trip (yup, gonna beat on that dead horse again). I was with my 23 junior high students, 10 parent chaperones, and our fearless Explorica tour guide - and a partridge in a pear tree. Or so it seemed. Navigating that massive group through the streets of Paris without losing anyone had already proven to be a challenge, but not impossible. Now we were headed for the underground Metro system, moving from the Eiffel Tower to our restaurant for dinner.

view of Eiffel Tower from below, Paris France
The Eiffel Tower in Paris from below

Lisa, our tour director, had warned us that the Metro system at dinnertime was swamped, cramped, and full of pickpockets. Our parent chaperones were instructed to closely guard their young charges, and their purses and wallets were to be gripped tightly in front of them, with one hand preferably covering the zipper or button access. I myself had a gigantic backpack - being the group leader I was responsible for carrying around this hefty binder full of emergency info lest one of my students get injured or go missing. I buried my valuables down to the bottom of the bag, then covered them with my hoodie and the aforementioned gargantuan binder. Satisfied that we were properly guarded, we entered the Metro.

Paris city transportation, Paris Metropolitian
Our group lined up for an easy Metro entrance - there's the big, black backpack!

Lisa had not been exaggerating - the Metro at that time of day was bustling! People coming home from work, tourists headed out to dinner, kids meandering home from whatever after-school activities they'd been up to: it was full. My group lined up along the back wall of the Metro and tried to make ourselves as small as possible until the proper train arrived. When it did, we attempted to fit our substantial group all into the same train without leaving anyone behind.

The flow of people exiting the train at that moment made this a very difficult procedure. Members of my group kept getting shoved back out of the train. Parents were literally hauling children aboard using sweater collars and arms. In the midst of this madness, I saw one of my parent chaperones squeezing between her own kids and two that were trying to leave. The two children trying to leave were getting crushed by the movement of passengers in the train car, and I wanted to call to one of my parent chaperones to mind them, but she was busy trying to make sure her students were safe and sound. Eventually, the two strange children made it out, and my chaperone's made it in, so I let it go.

Paris France, Paris Metro railway lines
Headed to the Paris Metro at dinner time? Not a good idea!

Once our train had made a few stops, the car emptied somewhat, and my group was able to relax. Some of us found seats, and the kids stretched their cramped arms. Then my parent chaperone said, in a dismayed voice, "My wallet is gone!" She had been mugged during our entry onto the train. Her credit cards, travel money, ID (except for her passport, thank goodness), and other important cards for life back home had all gone missing.

Hashing out the order of events, we came to the conclusion that she had been robbed by none other than the two children - the ones whom I'd been so concerned for their safety! They were the only people who had stood next to that particular chaperone for any duration of time, and since they'd been kids, she'd given them no mind. We were flabbergasted, but Lisa the tour director lamented that it was all-too-common, and it was known that kids worked in small gangs in the Paris Metro and were usually directed by an adult who coordinated them. My mind drifted to stories of a modern day Oliver Twist.

Eiffel Tower from the plaza, things to see in Paris France
The Eiffel Tower - a busy tourist attraction that also 'attracts' pickpockets...

Lisa and the parent chaperone headed directly to the police station to report the mugging and to get the chaperone issued some travel papers in replacement of her missing ID cards, while the rest of us enjoyed a sombre dinner. In the end, it did work out - the parent chaperone was able to gather some spending money, the cards were all replaceable, and the rest of the trip was grand.

Paris Metro, Saint Michel Paris Metro
Be smart and guard your stuff on the Metro - even from children!

So here is my advice on how to NOT get mugged on the Paris Metro by an 8-year-old thief:
1. Keep your valuables at the bottom of your bag. Chances are if a pickpocket has to dig, he or she will abort the mission, or you'll feel the digging.
2. Keep your hands on your bag at all times and don't let your attention drift. That is what they are looking for.
3. Just because they are kids, doesn't mean they can't be suave and sophisticated swindlers! Take nothing for granted.
4. Mind the times you ride the Metro - certain times of day are much busier and more convenient for thieves to be out. Plan your schedule accordingly.
5. Big groups are easy targets. Sometimes it can't be helped, but if possible, travel in smaller groups that don't attract as much attention.

9 comments:

  1. Good advice! While traveling, my ex boyfriend would carry his important things in this thin pouch that he would hang around his neck on the inside of his shirt or jacket. Also this post reminds me of a food blogger I follow whose house got broken into and robbed. The robbers left footprints everywhere, and they were the sizes of very young kids, possibly as young as five. That was also in France. She said that there are groups who train the kids to do that. Scary!

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    1. I was shocked - it ruined my nice, delusional image of kids as sweet and innocent! I guess I get spoiled out at my school where the kids really ARE sweet and innocent. At least, for the most part - they're not out mugging people!!

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  2. I couldn't agree more, it can happen any time anywhere. I think that what you say is so true, keep you hands on your things and be aware of all people men, women, and yes sadly children. Great tips, thanks for sharing!

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    1. No problem! Something to always keep in the back of your mind...

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  3. Pick pockets are terrible on the crowded metro and trains in Rome. They are known to cut the bottom of your purse so valuables at the bottom doesn't work so well. I wore a "fanny pack"...as horrible as it sounds was the best thing. My $$ and such was in a zipper compartment that was against my stomach. I could easily protect it. My husband did not fair well even with his wallet in his front pocket. When a metro is packed and you are stuffed in there like sardines...put your hand on your wallet and hold on tight!!!!

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    1. Excellent tip - I'd be so mad if I looked in my bag and found a hole in the bottom with my valuables missing! Getting mugged is definitely something I want to prevent from happening to me! Who cares if you are stylish - as long as you have your wallet and passport, you're laughing!

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  4. Rome - gypsy children....

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  5. Newest update - now pickpockets are operating INSIDE the Louvre! Be aware and be safe! http://www.usatoday.com/story/dispatches/2013/04/12/pickpockets-tourists-louvre/2077173/

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